By Eric Tichy
MAYVILLE - With the chautauqua County Jail at maximum capacity, alternatives for incarceration must be explored. That, according to incumbent County Judge John T. Ward and his challenger, attorney William F. Coughlin.
Candidates Debate Alternatives To Putting People In Jail
On Thursday, Sept. 13, voters will decide the Conservative and Independence nominations for November's general election. Ward, a Republican, and Coughlin, a Democrat county legislator, are seeking both nominations.
During a debate at The Post-Journal, both candidates were asked their views of alternatives to jail incarceration - such as treatment courts, interim probation and judicial diversion.
"What I'm really concerned about is that nobody has seriously taken a look at the alternatives to incarceration," Coughlin said.
In particular the Fredonia Democrat said he has not seen enough data to suggest drugs courts in the county are working.
"I have yet to see any empirical evidence that shows that this is working; that there is less recidivism; that people are changing their lives around," Coughlin said. He added: "We hear a lot of anecdotal stories when you go to the graduations. But what do see at the graduations?
You see the judges, the counselors, the providers, the district attorney, the public defenders, two or three people who have graduated from school. I don't know if it is cost-effective."
This is the third in a series of three stories focusing on a debate held between Judge John T. Ward and Legislator William F. Coughlin for the upcoming election for County Judge.
Ward, meanwhile, said indigent defendants also play a factor in the jail's population. Those who cannot afford bail, pre-disposition, are incarcerated.
"Two people who may be facing the same charge with the same bail, one person can afford to make the bail, another person cannot," Ward said. "One sits in jail until his or her case is resolved, the other is out on bail."
Ward said if a defendant is not dangerous or a flight risk, alternatives to jail time are necessary. The incumbent judge noted partially secured bail - which allows a defendant to front 10 percent of bail costs.
Also available in lieu of incarceration is release under the supervision of probation.
"As county judge that is something you have to look at, ways to possibly reduce the population at the jail of nonviolent individuals who aren't a risk to flee," Ward said.
The judge also said he has not seen enough data to determine whether drug court has been successful.
Under interim probation, defendants are allowed to plea to a charge and enter into probation, which includes counseling. If successful, a defendant's charge can be reduced.
"It's a carrot-and-stick type deal," Coughlin said, "and it seems to be more effective I think than the drug court."
Ward said interim probation is typically utilized for first-time offenders of a felony.
"If they successfully complete that program then the agreement is usually that they will be allowed to plea to a lesser charge," Ward said. "Usually a misdemeanor. And if they don't they are stuck to a felony."
"Why I like judicial diversion is No. 1, it's the judge making the decision," Coughlin said, noting that as a requirement, defendants must wear a monitoring bracelet.
"In Buffalo we have seen judicial diversion work wonders for people who qualify for it," he added. "I'm in support for anything nonviolent individuals that are not at risk to society to not spend lengthy amounts of time in jail."
Ward, too, noted the success rate of judicial review and the power given to the judge to set the rules. He said if not followed, a harsh sentence is typically imposed.
"They are drug tested, the are counseled," Ward said of defendants in the program. "I believe in some cases they are given job skills training, things like that. And it's a real incentive for them.
"I think it is a successful program because if they get through it and they succeed they have an opportunity to be re-introduced into society," he continued. "If they fail they know what the consequences are."